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12 January 2017

On Classical Education: Ordered Affections

On the importance of learning to order (prioritize) our affections in Classical education, as well as in the rest of our lives.


This post is part of a series:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character
What is a Student? 
Make Haste Slowly
Much Not Many
Ordered Affections (this post)
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Embodied Learning
Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
Contemplation
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table



I am intrigued by this idea of "ordered affections." It comes up again and again in the writings of people who know Classical Education well, and it's a beautiful fit, doctrinally. But it's not something that I've really heard explicitly discussed often: it's the idea that there is a correct order or priority to not just the things that we love, but the activities we do, and really, to every part of our lives.


 "St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it."
-C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man


Certainly, there is plenty of talk about priorities, but I've always thought of that as a sort of to-do list, where it's important to get the right things at the top of the list. This concept of "ordered affections" is more, it's more nuanced, and less concerned with the outer actions of the to-do list, and more with the inward motivations, in educating the inward heart. I like that. And, being educators, the people I've been reading and listening to have quite a bit to say about what ought to be done about it, in terms of helping our children to order their own affections correctly. That quote from C.S. Lewis comes up again and again, which makes me want to find a copy of The Abolition of Man:


"St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. The little human animal will not, at first, have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful."
-C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man


Part of me wants to recoil from the idea of teaching that things are hateful, but then I remember what Alma said, and I think it's not so bad to teach this, after all:


Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.
-Alma 13:12, emphasis added


Setting my children's feet on a path toward the Lord's rest is exactly what I am trying to do in my parenting -- including in our educational choices. There is this about Christ's attitudes toward this concept, as well, from Dr. Perrin:


Jesus often signals an ordo amoris, telling the rich, young ruler there is one thing he lacks (Matt. 19) and telling Martha that though she is busy about many things, Mary has chosen what is best: to converse with him rather than prepare dinner (Luke 10). When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he responds that there are two: to love God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22). Jesus seems to believe that there is a divinely ordered hierarchy of loves and pleasures.
-Christopher Perrin, I Would Like to Order... an Education


Classical Christian Education asserts that there are objective standards of Truth, objective standards of Goodness, and objective standards of Beauty, and further says that we have a duty to instruct our children in these standards, as Lewis said, "to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful." Putting character at the heart of education, re-enthroning it as the true aim of education, and then really acting as if that (and not a generous adult income) is the main priority requires a whole different way of thinking about what we do and why we are doing it. It's a completely different paradigm from wanting to create "college readiness": it's more that just knowing the facts and skills that typically lead to a good income. It's that and also having the wisdom to know that there is more to life than a career, the wisdom to recognize the reality that we are the children of God and behave in a way that befits that kind of heritage: to become more fully human.


We have this desire to give our kids what we call an academically "rigorous" education. Andrew Kern and Christopher Perrin both taught me a bit about that. ... I asked them how we could pursue a rigorous education while retaining a sense of rest. What I didn't realize at the time was that the word "rigor" comes from the Latin rigor, rigoris, which means "numbness,stiffness, hardness, firmness, roughness, rudeness." Rigor mortis literally means "the stiffness of death," which I think we can all agree is not the goal of homeschooling our children!

Don't aim for rigorous education, Kern and Perrin both told me. If we are aiming to order our children's affections, learn to love what is lovely, join in the great conversation, and cultivate a soul so that the person is ready in every sense of the word to take on the challenges around the corner and on the other side of the college entrance exams; work toward "diligence" instead.

"Diligence" come from the Latin diligere, which means to "single out, value highly, esteem, prize, love; aspire to, take delight in, appreciate." What we are really aiming for in giving our children a rigorous education is not just doing hard things, but cultivating a habit of focused attention. The word "student" comes from the Latin studium, meaning "Zeal, affection, eagerness." A diligent student, then, takes delight, eagerly and with great zeal, in what he loves.
-Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching From Rest, 4-5


In addition to doctrinal and philosophical reasons to consider the concept of ordering our affections, there are some compelling practical reasons, too. All education is self-education: it doesn't matter how good the teaching is, if the student does not engage, then no learning happens. Genuine education requires active choice on the part of the learner.

“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.”
-Katrina Gutleben



As we come to prize the good, the true, and the beautiful, then we become hungry, curious, and the love of learning ignites. We need to help our children acquire studium, so that they can become real students, rather than just being officially "in school".


“The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
-Charlotte Mason


But in this process, we can't behave haphazardly and expect it to create order. The process of bridling our passions is something that needs to be happening in both teachers and children. The Psalmist talks about learning to bridle our mouth, and Alma speaks more broadly about bridling our passions. In the Church, we often talk about this in terms of bridling sexual passions, but I think that I prefer the broader definition of passions in that it's things and topics and activities that we enjoy and become passionate about, to one degree or another. This concept includes, but is not limited to, sexual passions. And in this context, we want to put God at the apex, making Him the thing that we are most passionate about - that we love the most - and that we are teaching our children to love the most as well. This process of ordering our passions will require self-discipline. In homeschool, this requires planning, rather than just strewing opportunities and hoping for the best. It means that sometimes we pass on this, because that is a better choice.

Is self-denial wise because there is something wrong with our passions, or because there is something right with our passions? Alma taught his son: “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” (Alma 38:12; emphasis added.) He did not say we should suppress or eliminate our passions but rather bridle them—harness, channel, and focus them. Why? Because disciplining our passions makes possible a richer, deeper love.
-Bruce & Marie Hafen, Bridle All Your Passions


When we correctly order our affections, we can give them our best, and receive from them the best they have to offer. By putting things in their proper place, we can most fully learn to love learning, and gain the best returns from the effort that we put into education.


Knowledge of truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education. The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education. The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem. 
-Joseph F. Smith



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